Young, Arthur (1741–1820), agriculturist and author of A tour in Ireland, was born 11 September 1741 in London, youngest child and younger son of Arthur Young, clergyman and chaplain to the speaker of the British house of commons, and his wealthy wife, Anne Lucretia de Cousmaker. Educated at a school at Lavenham, Suffolk, he was apprenticed in 1758 to wine merchants in King's Lynn, Norfolk. In 1761 he moved to London, where he established and ran for a short period the Universal Museum, a monthly magazine. Having suffered a serious illness, in 1763 he turned to agriculture when his mother provided him with the tenancy of a farm at Bradfield, Suffolk. Thereafter he gained a considerable knowledge of agriculture and read widely on agricultural improvement. He later moved to a farm in Hertfordshire, which was not a success, and so turned to writing: journalism, and accounts of tours he made of the northern and eastern counties of England. In 1776 he made the first of two visits to Ireland, which ultimately led to his A tour in Ireland (1780). By the later 1780s he was outright owner of the Bradfield estate, both his mother and brother having died. In 1787 and 1790 he visited France, Catalonia, and the north of Italy, which resulted in Travels in France (1793), which ran into several editions. When the board of agriculture was established in London in 1793, Young became its secretary while continuing to write and publish. From 1808 his eyesight began to deteriorate, and he was blind for the last nine years of his life. He died 12 April 1820 in London. His wife, Martha Allen (d. 1815), to whom he was married for forty years, most of it unhappily, predeceased him; they had three daughters and one son. He was also predeceased by two of his daughters, including his favourite daughter in 1797. Young was hard-working, politically enlightened, religious in outlook (he instanced Edmund Burke (qv) as the sole figure in public life who was moved by religion), and never rich. He sat for James Barry (qv), who in 1783 wrote to him approvingly of his Irish volume. Young's sitting was for his inclusion among the figures in Barry's great murals on the theme ‘The progress of human culture’, in the Royal Society of Arts in London. An individual portrait was not created. Details of other images of Young are given on the website of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Writer and context Young has long been a subject of controversy as to his competence as a farmer, and, if judged as a journalist, as to the accuracy of his generalisations. Posthumously his most frequently quoted works have been his books on Ireland and France, the fruits of journeys at key points in the history of the two countries. His Irish visits seem to serve as an introduction to the free trade controversies of 1779–80, and Young himself included in his Tour an interesting postscript on economic crisis in Ireland in 1778–9 (in some ways a remarkable parallel in timing as well as in substance to his perceptive observations, a decade later, on overblown claims about economic crisis in France). His sweeping comment that Ireland had advanced more than any other country in the preceding thirty years was, however, what Irish contemporaries told him repeatedly (and anticipations of which can be found in Irish comment) rather than Young's own conclusion.
The first part of his work consists of his ‘minutes’ and an interlinking commentary; the second part is a full-blown discursive text, dealing with general matters under several headings, as well as with farming. For compiling his minutes, he had a standard series of questions on leases, rents, wages, migration, and agricultural practices. An accurate as well as industrious recorder of detail and possessing real analytical ability in its processing, he must have been, except for the most ardent improvers, an exhausting as well as dogmatic dinner guest. While the so-called ‘Autobiography’, published in 1898, has some reference to Ireland, it was compiled late in his life, and a journal which he used seems to have begun only in the 1790s.
The tours, 1776–7 His earlier tours in England and Wales having been reprinted in abridged form by the Dublin Society in 1771, Young determined in 1775 on a visit to Ireland as the basis for an Irish volume. He spent on his first visit (20 June–19 October 1776) 122 days in the country. Returning in mid 1777 to take up an offer of the agency of the vast Kingsborough estate in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, he spent more than two months in Dublin while a house was being readied in Mitchelstown. This enforced stay, apart from the constant round of dinners he later recollected, also afforded him the opportunity of compiling the statistical information which is at the core of part 2 of the Tour. He left for Mitchelstown on 24 September, following a fresh route over sixteen days, to take up his post. In his minutes of this journey he refers, as often implicitly as explicitly, to riding in the Mitchelstown countryside, visiting the houses of farmers and dairymen, employing twenty-six labourers at a time, allocating waste rent-free for three to five years to cottars, and building a lime kiln. He compared the cottars favourably ‘with the whole race of jobbing gentlemen whose conversation for ever takes the line of ridiculing the poverty of the cottar tenants’. The much quoted lines on ‘your fellows with round hats edged with gold, who hunt in the morning, get drunk in the evening and fight the next morning’ is an echo of his sour Mitchelstown recollections. The disputes which made his position in Mitchelstown untenable are known only from a brief and embittered account in the autobiography, of a Maj. Thornhill, holder of a middleman interest on the estate (whose wife allegedly sought to have her husband supplant Young in the agency), seeking to take over out-of-lease land when Young's policy was to lease to direct occupiers. Young had been promised a retainer of £500, and an annual salary of £500. On termination of his agency at the end of somewhat more than a year, he was compensated for unpaid salary by an annuity of £72. He had taken up the agency at a dire time in his own affairs. Whatever his sore feelings on other grounds, he seems to have felt himself not badly done by economically.
Contacts Young had come to Ireland armed with letters of recommendation from ten figures (disappointed, however, that he did not get a wider response to his requests), and the acquaintances he made in Ireland (notably William Burton Conyngham (qv), a close confidant of the lord lieutenant) added to them. His days on the road in 1776 and 1777 are the sole source for the information in part 1 (excepting some detail from a later visit to the Boltons intermingled with the account of a first meeting, and his comments on Mitchelstown). By comparison his French journeys in three visits took up ten months. Spending a longer period on the road and staying mainly in inns, that account has vivid detail totally lacking from the Irish tour. The contrast is in part explained by the fact that he met few people other than his hosts in Ireland, but also by the loss of a trunk sent ahead at his final departure and which contained a ‘private journal . . . in which I noted many anecdotes and circumstance of a private nature . . . which had it been preserved, would have assisted greatly in drawing up these papers’. (An unkind observation might be that it is just as well, as some comment in the Tour and more strikingly in the Autobiography – where it is heightened by his having read in the interval Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (qv) – gives an impression, outside the realms of farming and economics, of credulity and of a capacity for extravagant generalisation.) As far as catholics are concerned, the only ones of consequence he met were (in Co. Tipperary) MacCarthy of Springhill and Keating, and – through the Boltons – James Wyse of Waterford. Andrew French, a Galway merchant he met at Monivea, was probably catholic also.
Traveller and guest Young moved with great speed. Thus, to take one instance, after leaving Gervase Bushe (qv) at Kilfane, Co. Kilkenny, on the morning of 11 September, travelling almost non-stop he spent the night in an inn at Taghmon, and, with one detour at the innkeeper's recommendation, reached Wexford town on the evening of the 12th and Courtown the following day. The speed was not lost on his Irish hosts. John Foster (qv), who was not present for Young's visit to his father, Chief Baron Anthony Foster (1705–79) at Collon, reported that Young travelled like an express. While Young did his host proud, commending him as ‘this prince of improvers’, his one-night stay in Collon, as he had made substantial halts elsewhere on the day of arrival, was among his shortest. In fairness, however, he had already become aware of Foster's achievements when visiting Col. Burton at Slane three weeks previously. On many occasions, breakfast on the road was the occasion of the first of several meetings in a day. A total of 116 named persons are thanked in the preface. If his hosts, either sixty-eight or sixty-nine in number, are subtracted, it provides an approximate count of his other socially significant informants (omissions include, among others, Keating and Wyse). Often he arrived unannounced: in cases where he knew his would-be hosts were absent, he made no attempt to reshape or retime his itinerary (with the exception of altering it to ensure a second stay at Castle Oliver, Co. Limerick). In the case of his first tour, deducting thirteen nights in cities and large towns and two nights aboard a packet at Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, over a further 107 days he spent a mere five nights in inns along the road; he was entertained by thirty-three hosts for a single night (including one instance where he asked the servants of an absent proprietor to accommodate him in the house); a further thirty hosts provided accommodation to a grand total of sixty-nine nights for two or more nights. Seven of these accommodated him for three nights (Sir James Caldwell (qv) of Castle Caldwell, Fitzmaurice of Ballymote, Robert French (qv) of Monivea, Lucius O'Brien (qv) of Dromoland, Lord Shannon (qv) of Castlemartyr, Lord Clanwilliam, and Oliver of Castle Oliver) and one, Thomas Herbert of Muckross (Killarney), for four nights. A unique case is that of the Boltons at Faithlegg: Young spent a night in the Bolton home during the three days his packet was windbound at Dunmore East (Young's Autobiography is in error on the dating, putting it in 1778 instead of 1776), and uniquely the minutes incorporate some detail from an otherwise unknown ‘long visit’ in 1778.
A footnote reference by Young singles out a remarkably warm recollection of his visits to the Boltons and to Herbert. In Young's second tour, the brief one in 1777 on his way from Dublin to Mitchelstown, he stayed with either five or six hosts. Untypically this was a relatively leisurely journey including very probably five nights with John Lloyd of Gloster, King's Co. (Offaly), ‘from whose conversations I reaped equally instruction and amusement’, and a certain four with the obscure Michael Head near Lough Derg.
Reception of the Tour in Ireland In August 1780 Sir Lucius O'Brien proposed a resolution at the Dublin Society, that Young should be asked to consider a revision of the second part of the tour for publication by the Society. However, when Young's receptive reply came up, the matter was deferred to eight months later (in effect rejection). With Dean Richard Woodward (qv) and John Foster in the ascendant in the politics of the Society, rejection may have been politically motivated. Part 2 was highly liberal in tone, notably so in its comments on the penal laws, and in the astonishing section on oppression (where Burke's influence can be seen). Noteworthy in this context is the minuting in part 1 of Chief Baron Foster's complacent statement, made in the course of a conversation on the penal laws, that they were not enforced, where Young quoted Burke to the effect that connivance was the badge of slavery (the words moreover are capitalised in the text). While Young's recollection in his very much later Autobiography was of having been received ‘in the most agreeable and hospitable manner’, the plain fact is that in writing up the visit he delivered a blunt rebuke or put-down, the sole individual one in the entire volume. Part 2 was no less – and perhaps more – offensively a sweeping and unqualified criticism of the policies of the Irish parliament in support of canals, industrial development, and especially its bounties on the transport of corn, and, extending the insult, of the Dublin Society's own policies (the agriculture-obsessed Young seems quite erroneously to have interpreted rejection as a consequence of a manufacturing party prevailing over an agricultural party).
The Irish reception of his book long rankled with Young. As the subscriptions he solicited fell short of 500, he had quickly abandoned plans to include a large number of plates. He made an issue in an advertisement of ‘100 of my receipts [in modern parlance, order forms] in gentleman's hands in Ireland, of which the most repeated applications have not been sufficient to procure me any account whatever’. Nevertheless at the time of publication, subscribers had subscribed for 307 copies, not a bad outcome if Young's high expectations of sales are set aside. If we assume that 500 copies were printed, 154 unsold copies in 1795 would suggest a further sale of a mere forty-six copies. As the pirated Dublin edition of 1780 was of no benefit to Young, rejection by the Dublin Society had ensured that the economic return would remain modest. Some individuals had, however, supported him very generously: in particular William Conyngham Burton took twenty copies, and Lord and Lady Kingsborough (the latter a bête noire of his later recollections) each subscribed for ten copies. Neither Foster nor his father was a subscriber.
Ó Gráda and Allen have shown that Young's passionate advocacy of turnips and clover led him to ignore his own evidence, which showed that Irish tillage and to a lesser extent French agriculture were much more productive than he asserted. He also condemned in ringing tone the combination of farming and weaving, advocating specialist weavers. In fact colonies of specialist linen weavers collapsed wholesale in the 1770s; and had his advice been acted on, the industry might not have survived even in Ulster. He was liberal in his outlook, always for instance making a careful note of the condition of the labouring classes and displaying an interest in catholics and in the penal laws (on which Edmund Burke had briefed him prior to his Irish visit). His reference to gentlemen calling out to duels lesser people who opposed them may be coloured by Cork events: the notorious Arthur O'Leary (qv) affair in 1773, and the activities of Maj. Thornhill, described in the Autobiography as ‘an ignorant open-hearted duellist’.